There’s a great cast of supporting actors in In the Valley of Elah, a film that deserves far more attention than its received. There’s Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon and about half the cast from No Country for Old Men. Charlize Theron as Detective Emily Sanders does some of the best work I’ve seen her do (and it’s done without boasting about the paring down of her beauty.)
But the performance that steals the show is Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Deerfield, creating the third best character I’ve seen at the theatres this year (just behind Daniel Plainview and Anton Chigurh.) Hank is a man of simplicity, a man of strong religious values, a military man who continues to live the rituals that were ingrained in his head. The blankets have to be perfectly tucked under the bed, face cleanly shaved to a fault, shoes shined and cleaned…everything he does is by the book. Jones instills such a strong sense of virtue in this former Military Police Officer that it’s easy to love him despite his hard headed nature, and the fact that he sees himself as more capable than those around him.
Hank’s a man who doesn’t believe that his son, also military, would go AWOL, but when the son doesn’t answer phone calls or emails Hank steps out on his own to do some investigating. He hits a road block going the military route and seeks help at the local police station where he meets and butts heads with Det. Sanders. Theron isn’t afraid to play Sanders with the humility of a great actor. Even though she finds Sanders strength in the character’s son and a drive to prove herself among her fellow detectives, she remains far from perfect.